Part #2 of One Night series by Jodi Ellen Malpas
closing me in from every direction, I know the security cameras will be focused on me and me alone. Miller will have given Tony the heads-up, and I’ve no doubt the doorman has already advised Tony of my arrival.
I turn and accept the glass of champagne, ignoring the strawberry and downing it. Then I immediately demand another. I’m handed a fresh glass and, as I turn, I spot Tony striding across the dance floor in my direction. He looks fuming mad, and knowing what’s about to transpire, I disappear amid the sea of people, taking off towards the roof terrace.
As I make my way up the frosted glass steps, I glance over my shoulder and smile when I see Tony standing where I’ve just fled, looking around in confusion. He leans over the bar and speaks to the barman, who quickly shrugs before tending to a waiting customer. I see Tony bash his fist on the glass counter of the bar and swing around, scanning the club. Smug, I continue on my way until I round the corner and break the threshold of the giant glass wall, finding myself among a sea of people laughing, drinking and chatting, none of them taking a bit of notice of the stunning outlook.
I take a sip of my champagne and wait, and I don’t have to wait for long. I catch the eye of a guy across the terrace and smile coyly before slowly turning away from him to enjoy the view.
I leisurely pivot on my heels, coming face to face with him. He’s dressed in dark jeans and a white shirt. My eyes drag the entire length of his body until I’m at his face. It’s a handsome face – clean-shaven and fresh, and his short brown hair is longer on top, combed to the side.
‘You?’ I ask, relaxing in my pose and taking my glass to my lips.
He smiles a little and directs me to the edge of the terrace, his hand resting lightly on the small of my back. There are no internal sparks ricocheting around my body from his touch, but he’s a man and that’s all I need.
‘Danny.’ He leans down and pecks each of my cheeks. ‘You are?’
‘Livy.’ I glance up to the camera and smile as he takes his time introducing himself.
‘Pleasure to meet you, Livy,’ he says as he pulls away. ‘I love your dress.’
I’ve no doubt he loves it. It’s tight and short. ‘Thank you.’
‘You’re welcome.’ His eyes sparkle.
We spend a short while chatting and I reciprocate when he smiles and laughs, finding it easy, but not because I’m attracted to him. It’s because I know cameras are focused on me from every direction, recording everything and saving it for Miller’s eyes once he’s returned from Paris.
‘Is there a protocol you like to follow?’
I struggle to prevent my brow from furrowing in confusion. ‘You mean whether I’d like you to take me for dinner or just take me to bed?’
He smirks. ‘I’m happy to do both.’
My confidence wavers momentarily, but I quickly rein it in. ‘We’ll call the strawberry dinner.’ I tip my flute and catch the fruit, making a point of chewing it slowly and swallowing even slower.
He follows suit and mimics my actions with a knowing smile. ‘It’s a stunning view.’ He tips his empty glass towards the open space beyond, and I follow his indication to look.
‘I agree,’ I muse, ‘but I can think of far better ways to spend the rest of the evening.’ My boldness should stun me, but it doesn’t. I’m on a mission – a dangerous mission. Miller isn’t the only one with a mask. This is too easy.
Turning my eyes back to Danny, my lips tip seductively and he moves in, slowly lowering his face to mine until our lips brush. In an attempt to maintain my cool confidence, I close my eyes and conjure up images of Miller. It’s weak and pathetic, but it’s the only way I’ll see through my cruel actions. Danny’s lips don’t help me achieve my objective; they feel and taste nothing like Miller’s, yet I don’t hold back. I let him kiss me, and I relish only in the knowledge of what this will do to the man I love – the man who I know loves me but is too much of a weak coward to fight for it.
‘My place,’ Danny mumbles against my lips, slipping his palm onto my bottom. I nod against him and he immediately takes my hand to start leading me from the terrace. Miller Hart has ignited a dormant recklessness. I’ve proven William right. I’m my mother’s daughter, and the realisation should send me into meltdown, but the only meltdown I predict is the cold reality of my life without Miller in it. He’s a massive mess of complications and challenges, yet I crave him and all of the obstacles that accompany him.
We take the stairs, me following Danny, until we hit the ground floor. He pushes his way through the crowd, eager to escape the roar of people and gain some privacy. But then he halts and stuns me by kissing me again, humming into my mouth on a sigh. ‘I might do that a few more times before we make it out of here,’ he says, gently pushing his groin into my stomach.
I don’t protest, mainly because I’m jumping all over the fact that there is a camera directly above us, so I wrap my arms around his broad shoulders and let him have his way, my way of saying, Fine by me.
Dragging his body from mine, he reclaims my hand and leads on, stopping only a few more paces into his determined stride. But he doesn’t kiss me this time. ‘Excuse me,’ he says, trying to sidestep someone, only for them to move with him. I can’t see who it is. I don’t need to see who it is.
‘You’re not leaving with the girl.’ Tony’s gruff voice makes me sag behind Danny, but it also boosts my resolve.
Danny turns to look at me. ‘Ignore him,’ I say tightly, pushing into his back, encouraging him to move on.
‘Who is he?’
‘No one.’ I take over the lead, tugging a bemused Danny with me. Tony can’t stop me, and that will destroy Miller further.
‘Livy, quit the games.’ Tony’s annoyed growl pulls me to a stop.
‘Who said this is a game?’ I ask shortly.
‘Me.’ He steps forward, flicking warning eyes to a perplexed Danny, who’s since dropped my hand.
Danny laughs. ‘Okay, I don’t know what the craic is, but you can leave me out of it.’ He strides off, leaving Tony and me glaring at each other.
‘Why do you care?’
‘Then why bother intervening?’
‘Because you’ll get yourself in trouble.’
‘I’ll find someone else,’ I spit, barging past him, my legs like jelly as I make my way back to the bar. ‘Champagne,’ I demand, once I’ve fought my way to the front. Tony appears in front of me on the other side of the bar, shooing away the barman who was set to serve me.
‘You’re not being served any more alcohol.’
My teeth grit. ‘Why don’t you mind your own business?’
He leans over the bar, his own teeth grating. ‘If you realised the damage you’re doing, you’d cut the shit, sweetheart.’
Me? Damage? My temper flares into dangerous territory. If I was operating on resentment before, then now it’s in pure, raw rage. ‘That man has destroyed me!’
‘That man is shackled, Livy!’ he yells, making me recoil. ‘And regardless of what you and he ever thought, you can’t free him.’
‘From what?’ I don’t like the resolve in Tony’s tone or the look on his round face. He sounds too certain.
‘From the invisible chains.’ He speaks in a near whisper, but I hear the words perfectly over the deafening music and crowds. My throat starts to close off. I can’t breathe. Tony is watching me absorb his statement, probably wondering what I’m making of it. I don’t know. He’s talking in code. He’s insinuating that Miller is powerless – a weak man. That’s not true. He’s very powerful, physically and mentally. I’ve experienced both.
I remain silent, mind spinning, body shaking, unsure of my next move. I feel distressed and in the dark, my damn eyes beginning to sting with the onset of hopeless tears.
‘Go home, Livy. Get on with your life and forget you ever met Miller Hart.’
Tony’s body deflates through the mist of water clouding my vision, and he’s suddenly gone, but my body won’t kick into action, leaving me standing at the bar, lost and useless.
‘Come with me.’ I feel a hand gently take my arm and guide me away from the busy bar, through the club, and down the stairs to the maze beneath Ice. Tony’s information, albeit vague and cryptic, indicates this isn’t Miller’s decision.
I stagger and trip in front of Tony, almost disorientated, and when we arrive at the door to Miller’s office, he punches in the code, swings the door open, and guides me to Miller’s desk. He places me carefully in the chair. ‘I don’t want to be here,’ I murmur pitifully, blanking out the comfort I gain from being in one of Miller’s perfectly precise spaces. ‘Why did you bring me here?’ He should have put me in a taxi and sent me home.
Tony shuts the door and turns to face me. ‘There’s something on the desk for you,’ he says with zero enthusiasm, and I can tell it’s because he doesn’t want me to have whatever it is. I cast my eyes across the glossy white surface, seeing the cordless phone in its usual spot, and in the centre of the desk is an envelope, placed so accurately, the bottom flush with the edge of the desk, only Miller could have put it there.
Instinct makes me sink into the leather of his chair, putting distance between the harmless piece of paper and me. I’m cautious and certain that I’m not going to want to read what’s contained inside. ‘From him?’ I ask, not removing my eyes from the envelope.
‘Yes. He stopped by on his way to St Pancras.’
I’m not looking at Tony, but I know he’s just exhaled a silent stream of weary breath. My hand lifts slowly and takes the envelope, which has my full name scrolled across the front in writing I recognise. Miller’s writing. The shakes are unavoidable, no matter how hard I try to control them, as I pull the note from inside. I’m vainly attempting to regulate my breathing, but heart palpitations are making it an impossible task to achieve. I unfold the paper and brush at my eyes to restore my clear vision. Then I hold my breath.
My sweet girl,
How did I know you would end up here? The security cameras have been turned off this evening by my request. If you choose to allow another man to taste you, then it is no more than I deserve, but I could never bear to witness it. Thinking about it is torturous enough. Seeing it could push me to kill. I’ve hurt you and for that I hope I burn in hell when I arrive there. Of all my wrongs, you are my biggest regret, Olivia Taylor. I don’t regret worshipping you or indulging in you. I regret the impossibility of my life and my inability to give you for ever. You must trust me and the decision that I’ve made, and know I’ve made it with a heavy heart. It kills me to say it, but I hope you can forget about me and find a man worthy of your love. I’m not that man.
My fascination will never die, sweet girl. I can deprive my eyes of seeing you and deny my mouth from tasting you. But there is nothing I can do to heal my shattered heart.
‘No,’ I sob, all built-up air in my lungs rushing from my mouth on painful gasps. The H of Miller’s name blurs when a tear hits the paper and makes the ink run down the page. The sight of the smudged, distorted letter matches me.
‘Are you all right?’ Tony’s voice breaks into my chaotic thoughts, and I lift my heavy eyes to another person opposed to our relationship. Everyone is hell-bent on breaking us, as I once was, too. And after all of Miller’s loss of temper when he’d feared I’d lapsed in fortitude, it’s now him.
‘I hate him.’ I spit the hurtful words with total sincerity. This letter hasn’t eased the pain. His words are conflicting, making coming to terms with his decision harder to accept. His decision. What about mine? What about me and my willingness to accept him and let him fill me with the strength I need to help him? Or is he beyond help? Is he too close to the depths of hell for me to pull him back? All of these thoughts and questions are only assisting in turning my pain into hatred. After everything we have endured, he shouldn’t get to make this decision on his own. I drop the letter to his desk and stand sharply. He’s hiding. He has hidden all of his life . . . until he met me. He showed me a man I’m certain no one else has seen before. He hides behind manners that defy the brusque, arrogant arsehole and suits that defy the relaxed Miller when we’re lost in each other. He’s a fraud, just like he said.
A red mist engulfs me and I stumble past his desk, practically falling to the drinks cabinet on the other side of his office. I spend a few moments running my eyes across the perfectly placed bottles and glasses, my breathing loud and erratic.
‘Livy?’ Tony sounds close and very alarmed.
I scream, deranged, swiping my arm across the surface, sending every perfectly placed item that adorned the unit smashing to the office floor on a loud crash.
‘Livy!’ Tony’s suddenly grabbing at my thrashing limbs, fighting to restrain me as I continue to shriek and battle against him like a woman possessed. ‘Calm down!’
‘Get off!’ I shout, heaving my body from his grasp and sprinting across Miller’s office to the exit. My legs are moving fast, in time to my thundering heart, taking me away from Miller’s perfection, up the stairs and out into the midnight air. I all but throw myself into the road, giving a cab no choice but to stop or run me down. I jump in. ‘Belgravia,’ I pant, slamming the door and watching as Tony barrels out of Ice, his arms flailing violently at the doorman as he watches me pull away. I fall back against the leather, giving my heart time to recover, my forehead hitting the cold glass as I watch a dark London pass by.
London really has cast its black shadow.
His apartment block looks uninviting, the glass-adorned lobby cold and silent. The doorman tips his hat as I pass, my heels breaking the eerie quiet and echoing around the vast space. I don’t take the lift, instead pushing my way through the door that leads to the stairwell, hoping the energy it’ll take to get me up the ten flights might dull down some of the anger burning a hole in my gut.
My plan fails. I fly up the stairs and find myself slipping my key into the lock of his shiny front door in no time, with no sign that my temper has cooled. Knowing exactly where I’m heading, I run through his quiet apartment, into the kitchen, and start yanking drawers open. I find what I’m looking for; then I fly down the corridor to his bedroom, taking the first door into his wardrobe.
As I stand at the threshold, armed with the most vicious knife I could find, I cast my eyes around the three walls that are all filled with rails and rails of bespoke and designer suits and shirts. Or masks. I see them as masks. Something for Miller to hide behind. His armour and protection.
And at that thought, I scream, deranged, and start yanking down the rows and rows of expensive garments. I begin slashing at the material, dropping the knife sporadically to rip the expensive fabric into strips. The power in my arms makes my task easy, my anger my friend, the knife only reclaimed and utilised to make random holes everywhere before I tear with my bare hands.
‘I hate you!’ I scream, slashing through his racks of ties.
I’m bordering the level of psychosis that Miller has shown all too often in recent days, and I only relent when every piece of his clothing is a mess of torn fabric. Then I fall to my arse, exhausted, my breathing laboured, and stare at the piles of ruined material surrounding me. It wasn’t a given that my mission to destroy all of his masks would make me feel any better, and it doesn’t. My hands feel raw, my face is stinging, and my throat is sore from screaming my way through my task. I’m as big a wreck as the mess I’ve caused. Shuffling back, I find the cabinet that sits in the centre of Miller’s wardrobe and slump against it, my shoes lost amid the mess, my dress riding up to my waist. I just sit there in silence, heaving and panting, for the longest time, wondering . . . what now? Being destructive might momentarily divert me from thinking, but the relief is
I let my head fall limply back, but jump when a loud crash rings through the apartment. My body stills, my breath catching in my throat. Then the hammering starts. I’m immobilised by a familiar fear, just sitting here listening to the persistent bangs on the front door, my eyes wide, my heart fighting to break free from my chest. I look around at the mess surrounding me. And spot the knife. Picking it up slowly, I watch the blade glimmer as I turn it in my hand. Then I stand on shaky legs. Perhaps I should hide, but my bare feet start moving of their own accord, my hand gripping the handle of the knife tightly. I wade through the remnants of Miller’s clothes towards the racket, cautious, wary, until I’m tiptoeing down the corridor and emerging into the lounge. I can see across the room to the entrance hall, and I can see the door physically moving with each hard bang.
Then the banging stops and an unnerving silence falls. I go to step forward, choking down my fear, determined to face the unknown threat, but halt when the mechanical lock on the door shifts and the door bursts open on a loud curse.
I stagger back in shock, my pulse bursting through my eardrums, making me dizzy and disorientated. It takes a few frightening moments to register what I’m confronted with. He looks unbalanced, a shocking thing for me to claim after the time I’ve just spent in his wardrobe. He’s a wreck, heaving and sweating, almost vibrating with anger.
He hasn’t seen me. The door is smashed shut and his fist thrown into the back of it, splintering the glossy wood, making Miller roar when his knuckles split open, and me stagger back in alarm.
‘Fuck!’ His expletive bounces around the colossal open space, hitting me from every direction, making me cower on the spot. I want to run to his aid or shout at him to notice that I’m here, but I dare not speak. He’s completely unhinged, leaving me wondering what the cause is for his violent lash-out. His own interference? I
Denied by Jodi Ellen Malpas / Romance & Love have rating 4.1 out of 5 / Based on45 votes